Feb 6, 2006


Wowowee stampede: The continuing tragedy of mass poverty

Most people, activists included, were silent at watching TV news reports of Saturday's stampede at Ultra. The nation was practically plunged into mourning by the sudden loss of so many lives in an incident that could have been averted but more importantly mirrored society's smouldering problem of poverty.

I do not wish to dwell much on the culpability of ABS-CBN for the network's apparent laxity in preparing for the arrival of tens of thousands of Pinoys whose appetite for the big anniversary celebration they whetted each and everyday for the past weeks. However, it is really important to stress that public interest demands that the network be made accountable for providing false hopes of "quick-rich" contests to victims mass poverty and for its criminal neglect.

ABS-CBN knows how to market its shows, products and talents to the hilt, a fact that we should not ignore because it was again used in order to create a euphoric atmosphere at the Ultra as early as five days before the event. ABS-CBN should be made fully accountable for the repercussion of the pre-anniversary hype and measly crowd-control preparations while not absolving it of exploitative of Wowowee per se. I would not be surprised if the survivors of the stampede and the relatives of those who died would soon recover from their terrible experience and file a class-action suit against the network.

The Ultra stampede however is not just an accident. It is a most powerful demonstration of the real state of the economy and the despair of the poor. The elite and the elitist Government may ignore it only at their own peril.

Those who have been able to watch episodes of Wowowee (and Eat Bulaga) would know the travails of each audience participant who is lucky enough to actually join the show's contests. Some try to join by lining up near network premises for weeks on end. From how they look, how they dress and how they speak, they bear unmistakable signs of peasant or workingclass origin. (These are the people who cannot share the elites' and upper middle class persons' common sentiment of wanting to leave the country and the crisis behind and look for opportunities elsewhere. These, our poor majority, have no such luxury of choice.) In the episodes I managed to watch, I am sure many also cringed at the sight of our countrymen do whatever the gameshow host tells them to do (sing or dance to whatever tune), or plead the Fil-Ams or foreigners in the TFC gallery for a few dollars. Many weep merely upon reaching the contestants' spots near Willie Revillame, perhaps shedding tears of joy at their closeness to the possibility of winning any of the usual Wowowee prizes.

We saw the same thing everyday, six times a week: An endless stream of perhaps the poorest Filipinos trying their luck at winning at Wowowee, especially in Pera o Bayong.

The elite and the comfortable middle classes went with their usual chores last weekend, but for the 50,000 or so poor folk who wanted to a chance at taking home a share of Wowowee's anniversary contest and raffle prizes, it was a date with destiny.

Indeed, the whole incident is a stinging rebuke and a damning indictment of the Establishment's failure to deliver the majority from the morass of poverty. It woke us up to the reality of continued destitution of millions of our people, and the urgent need to address their most immediate economic needs. Moreover, it is a condemnation of Government's most dastardly and now undeniable lies about economic growth.

The mercenary intellectuals who have long used their skills in prettifying the status quo and hoodwinking the people should now shut up and offer their apologies for their part in the worsening economic crisis.

It is hoped that the tragedy would help propel concrete actions, especially measures providing the most immediate economic relief, that would benefit the people. Otherwise, the Government that allows poverty to victimize the people and that adds more burdens on their shoulders through various new and higher impositions, would be bearing the brunt of these hungry and angry masses.

Confronting poverty and actually winning battles against it would be the highest possible honor we could give to those who lives and dreams were crushed at the Ultra stampede last Saturday.

Photo by Jay Directo courtesy of Yahoo! News/AFP

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